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MindsMatter Action: YMCA of Greater Toronto

With October featuring Mental Illness Awareness Week, World Mental Health Day and Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month, better workplace mental health is top of mind for many organizations. CivicAction reached out to organizations to see how they’re taking action. Read what the YMCA of Greater Toronto is doing in this Q&A with Medhat Mahdy, President and CEO.

A headshot photo of Medhat Mahdy.

Medhat Mahdy, President and CEO, YMCA of Greater Toronto

Tell us about a change your organization is taking to improve workplace mental health.

At the YMCA of Greater Toronto, building healthy communities includes ensuring our staff are able to prioritize their personal health and that of their family members.

A recent enhancement to employee benefits coverage is the addition of digital cognitive behaviour therapy. In addition to existing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and in-person counselling, our staff now have the option of getting support online anytime and anywhere that is comfortable for them. This is a particularly welcome option for our young team members, who are often juggling the time demands of work and family responsibilities.

Fostering mental health is an important pillar of our Diversity and Social Inclusion strategy. At our YMCA, we make over 600,000 community connections each year, so having staff who also understand mental health helps us to work with a diverse population. We’re proud to enter our second year of offering training by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to help our staff reduce mental health stigma, confidently de-escalate situations, and offer appropriate support to community members.

This year, we also launched our first staff Mental Health Working Group. Under its leadership, we supported Mental Health Week at locations across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). For example, our childcare staff designed bulletin boards showcasing the importance of mental health for caregivers and children, while other program areas launched appreciation walls and shared personal stories through lunch and learns. All around the YMCA, our staff demonstrated that they care deeply about mental health.

How is this change positively affecting your workplace culture or your employees’ attitudes to mental health?

Staff are more open to sharing their own experiences, and are demonstrating greater confidence interacting with members of the public who may be experiencing mental health challenges.

Are there plans for more actions to come? 

Yes, we are focused on all aspects of employee well-being and will continue to work with our benefits providers and consult with employees to ensure they are getting the services they need.

What does good workplace mental health look like to you?

At our new staff orientations, I list what each employee’s priorities should be when they join our charity. In order of importance, I tell them to focus on: their personal health and well-being, their family (however they experience their family), their spiritual growth (however they experience spirituality), and life-long learning. The fifth priority is their work at the YMCA. These priorities reflect some of the social determinants of health, which influence people’s mental health and overall sense of well-being, and help guide our YMCA’s work.

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